Many many moons ago I was nearly killed in an industrial accident (not the gamma radiation kind, but the impalement-on-the-axle-of-a-large-machine kind) and thereupon decided it was time to go into an arguably safer profession: teaching. I enrolled in education courses for the next year, did a semester’s internship after that, and then began searching for teaching jobs in the Carolinas and Virginia. No luck.
Eventually I heard through the grapevine that back in Jacksonville, Paxon had vacancies in its social studies department. There were a lot of connections: my dad had coached there; the principal, Dr. Williams, had worked at my alma mater; several of my former teachers were now at Paxon; and a friend of the family who worked in the district had put in the good word for me at Paxon, and arranged for an interview.
So that summer I drove 430 miles in the non-air-conditioned Delta ’88 to Jacksonville, got dressed up all fancy-like and put on my least ugly tie, made sure my hair was freshly buzzed, and headed over to Paxon with my silly little Student Teaching Portfolio. Dr. Williams was out of town, so I interviewed with an assistant principal and with the chair of the social studies department, Mrs. Janet Coburn.
This little old grandmotherly-type projected great intelligence and competence and dignity (and perhaps a wee bit of impishness that would surface from time to time over the years). It was clear that Dr. Williams had left the call up to her; if she liked my interview enough (or rather, if my interview wasn’t as bad as all the earlier interviews), I’d get the job. The interview apparently went well enough. When Mrs. Coburn got up to leave, I asked whether she’d like to see my Student Teaching Portfolio. Her response suggested strong disdain for the very concept– which, of course, won me over; I thought the portfolio was silly. I don’t remember exactly what was said, but after she left I remember the assistant principal saying something along the lines of “I think that means you have the job.” That was my proudest moment in a very long time.
Today, the 14th, is Mrs. Coburn’s last day as a teacher. I suppose that technically there’s always the possibility that she’ll come back again– this is her second-and-a-halfth retirement by my count– but this time she’s given several people very specific instructions to do her great bodily harm if she tries to return.
I’ll be as brief as possible: I am grateful to Mrs. Coburn for all the wisdom she has imparted to me over these last ten years, and for her guidance through trying and occasionally wacky times, and for the times she went to bat for me, and for how hard she tried to get me hired up north, and for how she helped me come back to Paxon, and for the letters of recommendation she wrote, and for the example and standard she set every single day she showed up at that school.
Above all else– and there are others to thank for this as well, but she made the final call as far as I’m concerned– I am grateful she allowed me to teach at her school. Here’s hoping she enjoys a long and rewarding retirement, full of travels and feasts and happiness.